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Transformative Professional Learning: All Day Every Day

Monday, 12 June 2023 12:07

There were eight of us around the table. We were all part of a teacher support initiative working in partnership with a large school district and a university to improve teacher preparation. We were discussing a challenging situation and raising questions with no easy answers.

How do we lift up racial disparities in schools in a collaborative manner? What does collaboration look like between a district, a university, individual schools, and partners funded to work with them? What is our role as partners?

We hit a wall until someone said, “Let’s do a round.” We sat silently for a few minutes and then proceeded to move around the circle to share what was coming up for each of us in this tense moment. It was then I knew. If a group invests in tools that help foster deep listening and increase the ability to slow down and reflect before jumping to a solution, they can utilize those tools in times of uncertainty. This type of application exemplifies transformative learning - significant, powerful learning–that changes the learner in profound, long-lasting ways.  

In that round, I shared the challenge of being the only African American on a team serving a predominantly African-American school system. Emotions and experiences were tangled up and had kept me quiet before now. The expected practice of my colleagues listening with no response gave me the courage to speak up.

I continue using protocols for solution-seeking, idea generation, and community-building. Colleagues often reach out to me to get help choosing the most suitable protocol. Even in that initial conversation, we began to get to the situation’s root.

The core values and conditions that are critical to creating a generative space for transformative learning are these:

  1. Facilitators encourage everyone to share their ‘knowings’ with others as a way to pool collective knowledge.
  2. Sharing both promising practices and consistent challenges helps us all problem-solve. It also creates connection and closeness when we see that we all have gifts to bring and challenges we're facing.
  3. Leave breathing space so that each participant is able to get what they need from their peers and the overall experience. Avoid the tendency to over-plan and use every ‘trick in the book’ in an effort to seek meaningful engagement from participants.

Here are a few tools for your use as a facilitator of meaningful professional learning experiences - every day. 

WIBYT - Write it before you talk

It’s that simple. Offer a prompt or question and protect the quiet time for writing. Then talk.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

Providing an immersive experience is an effective way to engage before planning and exploring resources. In a recent training, we asked staff to volunteer as the Snack Prep Team. Their job would be to prepare and present healthy snacks to their coworkers all day. We were ten minutes into making smoothies when a conversation ensued about planning to do this same activity with the youth. “Why hadn’t we made smoothies with the youth before?” I said nothing. I didn’t need to. The transformation was evident.

Good Old-Fashioned Team-Building & Connections

Checking in on your community is essential. In regular meetings, offer a one-word check-in or a 30-second response to the question “What’s on top for you?” (personally or professionally). The chat feature and nametag changes in online meetings allow for connections that take very little time.

Gadgets, Gimmicks & Online Tools

Some of my favorite gadgets are manipulatives on the table. I’m amazed at how much a fidget toy can keep folk engaged - and off their devices. There are card decks that foster deep reflection and accountability. Computer applications such as Padlet and Jamboard facilitate sharing of resources and ideas. Kahoot, Mentimeter, Google Forms, and Poll Everywhere are tools for assessing knowledge, experience, or opinions - and putting our devices to good use!


Protocols offer structured processes to support focused and productive conversations, build collective understanding, and engage in continuous improvement. I have included a protocol list to familiarize you with the techniques. Use what you can. Take it slowly and adjust to meet your audience.

Quality Prep Time

For a 1-hour meeting focused on professional development, expect to spend at least one-hour planning. From my experience, 3-4 hours spent planning for every hour of facilitation is an industry average.

In closing, pay attention to your transformative learning moments. It will help you foster those moments for others.


Contributed by President & CEO of HTI Catalysts, Dr. Folami Prescott-Adams. Originally featured in the Spring 2023 edition of Afterschool Today.